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The Devil's Gift

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Sitting behind her desk, Doctor Linda Martin watched as Buffy Summers practically slunk into her office, dressed in a pair of sweats and a loose t-shirt she'd obviously borrowed from Chloe's closet, instead of Maze's.

The girl looked even younger than her barely post adolescent years. Her shoulders slumped as if she carried the weight of the world on her back.

It was her eyes, however, that told the tale. They looked ancient, as if she’d seen it all, and continued to slog through, regardless of what was flung in her path.

“Hello, Buffy,” she said, softly. “Glad to see you this morning.”

“Well, it’s not like I had a choice, Doctor Martin,” Buffy said guardedly. “Detective Decker insisted on it if I wanted to stay with her.”

“She's a smart woman,” Linda sat down and crossed her legs. “And please, call me Linda. No need to be formal.”

“Maze said… she said, you know about her being different – and about Lucifer?”

“What do you mean - different?” Linda coaxed. “I know them fairly well... what do they have to do with you?”

Buffy rolled her eyes as if to say, ‘Why are we even doing this?’ Like Linda was somehow trying to trap her with her own words.

“About her being a demon, and about Lucifer being well... the actual Lucifer.”

‘Ah,’ Linda thought. “So Maze did confide in her. Off course she did. Maze was never one to shy away from anything, or to be subtle. And now Buffy was testing her.

“And you don't find that strange?” Linda asked. “You don’t think she’s off her perch just a little bit?”

“I met Dracula, once,” Buffy confided, totally straight faced. “Kicked his ass, too.”

“As in Bram Stoker’s Dracula?” Linda wanted to believe that Buffy was just putting her on. This was too much… way over the top. Even with Lucifer, it was sometimes hard to believe everything that came out of his mouth, and Linda didn’t know Buffy well enough to understand her sense of humor.

Buffy shrugged. “I meet a lot of different creatures in my line of work.”

Not beings, not people, but creatures… as if they were somehow sub-human – lesser than – not evolved enough to be seen as anything other than animals. It made her wonder how Buffy and Maze got along so well. “So we're not talking metaphorically, are we?”

She really wanted to cling to that false hope a little longer, but then she’d crossed that bridge with Lucifer several months ago, and burned it to the ground.

“Nah… it’s all demons, all vampires, all the time in the undead flesh.”

So matter of fact, Linda thought, as if talking about demons and vampires was as normal as talking about taking out the trash.

“Is there anything in particular weighing heavily on you that you’d like to discuss?” Linda asked, hoping to regain some control over the conversation. Who knows, maybe bluntness would actually work in this case and get her new patient to open up.

Buffy sat quietly for a few moments, her fingers fidgeting with the edges of her seat, obviously reflecting back on her life; taking the time to debate confessing it all to Linda, before she dropped a bombshell.

“Two years ago I had to put a sword through my boyfriend to close a portal, and he was pulled into hell to prevent the world from being dragged there in his place. That was major with the suckage.” After a few minutes, she added: “Not to mention how my first Watcher died in front of me, trying to save my life… or how my mother dated a robot who was also out to kill me.”

Linda was stunned at the blasé tone in Buffy’s voice. “What's a watcher?” The doctor couldn’t help thinking the term sounded creepy.

Buffy paused, as if to really ponder the question; as if people never bothered to ask her at all.

“A Watcher is a sort of teacher or guide to help the Chosen One in her battle against the darkness in the world,” Buffy replied.

“Your mentor?” Linda asked skeptically. It was an answer, sure, but it sounded like it didn’t tell the whole of it. She wondered why a grown man would come up to a teenager he’d never met before, put that kind of a burden on her back, and then send her out to fight for him.

“I guess. I didn't know Merrick all that long, but he taught me how to survive. That was when I lived in Los Angeles. After he died, Mom and I... moved to Sunnydale.”

“And your sister?” Linda remembered her talking about a younger sister. It seemed odd that she didn't mention her now. Most younger siblings would not be happy if they had to move and leave all their friends behind, due to something that happened to their elder, and the resulting fit would definitely have been memorable.

Buffy looked oddly uncomfortable. “Well, I remember her being there with us, but she wasn’t… not really.”

She seemed uncertain – befuddled for lack of a better word. As if she wasn’t sure how to how to put her thoughts into words.

“It's a whole magic thing. There were an order of ancient monks who changed everyone's perception of reality, and inserted Dawnie’s past into our memories so that we'd all believe she'd always been there. Like one moment I'm a single child, and the next… I have a younger sister I’ve known since Mom and Dad brought her home from the hospital. We figured that it didn't matter how Dawn got there, she was ours.”

This time Linda couldn’t disguise her astonishment. She’d begun to think that Lucifer was starting to seem 'normal' in comparison. After all, all he had to deal with was some simple family issues, albeit on a slightly more epic scale than usual.

There were times, however, though rare, that she could almost forget exactly whom she was talking to when dealing with Lucifer. With Buffy, the weirdness of her life was much more in your face.

Still, one thing Buffy had mentioned – that she was some kind of Chosen One – stuck in her mind. “Would you mind explaining just what the title Chosen One means, please?” she asked.

“Into every generation a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer,” Buffy recited, with absolutely no emotion whatsoever.

Linda’s only thought to her recitation – obviously learned by rote over many, many tellings – was the whole situation stunk of child abuse of the highest order.

How an older man had basically militarized her – a child soldier – defending the world from monsters. And not just ‘a’ soldier, but ‘the soldier’. The only soldier who could protect the entire world. What person… what child… could possibly stand up to that kind of pressure and say: “Get away from me. I’m not interested.”?

She could only imagine this was done away from the auspices of the girl’s parents, forcing the “Chosen One” to imprint upon him as her mentor, who trained her to fight unbelievable foes and then sent her on her merry way… alone!

“It’s not like I was normal, anyway,” Buffy interjected into the doctor’s thoughts. “Along with the title, I got some weirdly prophetic dreams. Either they were past memories of dead Slayers, or something awful apocalypsy to come. Add some nifty super powers: extra strength, speed, and super-duper quickie healing and you get a target for everything demonic. But I wasn’t alone in my fight for long. Once we moved to Sunnydale, it turns out the high school librarian, Rupert Giles, was my new Watcher.”

The school librarian. God, these assholes had invaded the girl’s school, forced their agent into inescapable proximity, so the parents were unsuspecting, until it was too late.

“And how did that make you feel?” was all she said. Linda, herself, wanted nothing more than to envelope the young woman in her arms, and make her feel comforted and safe, but not only would it be unprofessional, they didn’t know each other well enough for her to take such liberties.

More than that, it would be forcing herself upon a girl whose agency had already been negated, far more than any child’s life should have been tampered with. She couldn’t – wouldn’t – do that, not when the primary reason for doing so would be to make herself feel better, rather than her patient.

“I was worried about having last year’s hair,” Buffy quipped, “and then he dropped this huge volume of Vampire lore in front of me. Being a Slayer is not something I’ve been able to escape from.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Not even by leaping to a certain death.”

‘Gods, that poor girl,’ Linda’s heart cried out for her. Trying to pretend she was still a normal teenager, escaping to a new city, and having yet another older man continue the grooming of the first one… making her believe the fate of the world lay on her shoulders, while other adults stayed safely behind their books, out of the action.

“Did your parents ever find out about your calling?” she asked, smiling softly at her patient to encourage her to continue, fighting her instincts to give her professional opinion on just where those fucking Watchers could go as far as she was concerned.

The doctor’s eyes nearly glazed over as Buffy continued her tale of woe. The sneaking out at night to “patrol”; a drop in grades and truancy, plus a confession leading to a short-term commitment in an institution; the parental fights and subsequent divorce… how was this poor thing even standing, instead of gibbering away in some corner?

With a start, she realized her patient had stopped talking at some point, and was staring at her. “Sorry, dear,” Linda professed. “I was just trying to wrap my brain around all of this.”

“Welcome to my world,” was Buffy’s wry rejoinder.

“So tell me, how did your mother handle it when she found out you weren’t suffering from delusions, considering she and your father were responsible for your earlier commitment?”

“She told me flat out that if I left the house, I shouldn’t come back. Did I mention I had another vampire with me at the time?”

Buffy’s last-minute attempt to hide the heartbreak was fleeting, but Linda couldn’t begrudge her for her reluctance. How much was one child supposed to handle?

“But you still left?” Linda asked, ignoring the vampire part of her comment for the moment. It could only be a misdirection.

“I had to. The fate of the world depended on me. Even Spike knew that, and he's the vampire who had my back – a soulless vampire, willing to take on the others in his line to help me.”

And there was the vampire again. Maybe he wasn’t just a distraction. It seemed odd though, for a girl trained to see all vampires as threats, to have her working with one. Maybe it was more important than she’d believed him to be otherworldly.

“You had a vampire with you?” Linda asked her patient, looking into her eyes with concern. “And he was helping you against other vampires intent on ending the world?”

“I know, right? I'm a vampire Slayer. I should be killing vampires, and Spike had already killed two Slayers; I was supposed to be the third notch on his belt. But when Angel – Angelus, tried to destroy the world with the help of the demon in a stone, Acathla, Spike came to me, offered a truce, and helped take out Drusilla, his Sire, so I could handle Angel.” She paused momentarily to catch her breath. “He left as soon as he corralled Drusilla of course, hightailed it out of there as soon as he could manage. But the fact that he was willing to stand with me in the first place… it wasn’t something I’d have ever considered possible before.”

Buffy smiled at a memory. “Spike said vampires liked to talk big about world endage, but that’s all it was – bloodsucker watercooler talk. Angelus was different.”

“I think I need a scorecard here, to keep track,” Linda smiled. She wondered how she should bring up the question of Buffy having dated that other vampire, Angelus, in the first place. He was the only one she’d called her boyfriend.

“I didn't go back home for several months after that,” Buffy continued. “I couldn't. Not after Angel, after what he'd done, because of me. Not after I had to... had to send him to hell. Not after Mom. I had nobody.”

“You do know your mother loved you, no matter how harsh she seemed, right? It sounds like she was just afraid for her daughter.” It was the wrong way to deal with a rebellious child, but oh so common, and just as common to be taken the exact wrong way.

“I realize it now... but then I was devastated. Lost. I just couldn’t go home. Not then.”

Linda couldn’t begin to imagine the depth of her pain. For a girl that age to have to kill the boy she loved, and feel she was thrown out of her house, for trying to do the right thing. It was a miracle she was as well-adjusted as she appeared to be.

“I left Sunnydale, after that. My mother didn't want me... my friends didn't understand how I felt... I left to start over again in Los Angeles. Became a waitress, and lived in a little hell hole apartment.”

“You were how old?”

“Seventeen.”

A child on her own, with all the predators, human and otherwise, in a city the size of LA. Linda couldn’t bear thinking of all the things that could have happened to a girl that age, especially one that looked like Buffy. Even if she did have superpowers.

Watching her patient twist her hands in her lap, Linda offered: “Buffy, if this is too much for you, we can always continue in our second session.”

“I need to get out of here,” Buffy nodded. “I really need to hit something.”

Linda could understand that, hell by now, she wanted to pummel something, herself.